While Denise Napolitano was completing her Master of Business Administration and Ph.D. in chemistry at Arizona State University, her husband, Zach Gamza, was busy roasting coffee beans at their house.
Empower Coffee Roasters, open since April in Mesa, combines those separate efforts.
"Once my husband purchased a roaster and set it up in our garage, I started to appreciate coffee more, because a lot of it is chemistry," Napolitano says. "We would give coffee to our family for holiday presents and everyone seemed to like it. That's why we decided to start a coffee shop."
To clarify, their east Valley roastery is a retail shop for coffee beans and cold brew — not a cafe that brews and serves those beans. And it's only open five hours a week, on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Initially, Napolitano and Gamza planned to build a following by selling their beans at farmers' markets and pop-ups.
"We were hoping to serve coffee at weekend events for non-profits like Dress for Success, and be a part of the education there, in addition to hosting educational events at our own shop," Napolitano says.
When COVID-19 hit, Empower pivoted, relying on online sales and social media to get its message out.
It's grown despite the pandemic, partly due to its relationships with partner organizations like Go With The Flow, which provides lower-income Phoenix and Tucson schools with menstrual hygiene products. Empower donated 5 percent of its sales to Go With The Flow in June.
"When we partnered with Denise, she did lots of showcasing of our organization on social media and vice versa," says Demetra Presley, Go With The Flow's executive director. "We let people know if they wanted to kill two birds with one stone, they could purchase coffee from her to support a new business that is women-owned while also supporting our work and our mission on the back end."
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Currently, Empower is donating 5 percent of its sales to Live & Learn AZ, a nonprofit that helps women break the cycle of generational poverty, through the end of October. Napolitano says they aim to empower girls and women by buying beans from women-owned farms, providing education to girls in STEM fields, and supporting local nonprofits that help women achieve financial independence.
Empower sells two single-origin roasts onsite: El Tambo, a medium roast from Colombia, and Tega & Tula, a light roast from Ethiopia. A 64-ounce cold brew growler is also available in either variety. Free local delivery is offered in the east Valley, but if you want cold brew, you'll need to pick it up at the shop. Empower also offers weekly and monthly subscriptions with a 10 percent discount for coffee die-hards.
"My favorite part is that with all of their products, you know you are giving back to sources empowering women," says Eshani Sharma, who became a regular customer after visiting the shop last month. "The things you are buying are ethically sourced, and your money is going to a good place, not a big corporation."
Empower Coffee Roasters
1337 South Gilbert Road, #120, Mesa
Hours: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesdays